By: Kendall Hunt RPD with contributions from the writing team of Kindergarten Stepping Stones
In the Broadway musical My Fair Lady, protagonist Eliza Doolittle exclaims: “Words, words, words—all I get is words! I get words all day!” Her comment describes the ideal atmosphere for an elementary school child: a print-rich environment. In such an environment, children interact with many forms of print in meaningful ways and are encouraged to read and write about what is important to them.
Of course, books are one of the most important ways of creating a print-rich classroom. Picture books, read-aloud books, children’s magazines, and audiobooks are great places to start. Student-created books should also be displayed in or near the classroom library to create the connection between student work and the published works of others.
Books are a good beginning, but one of the goals of a print-rich environment is to bring words off the page. Here are four unique and interesting ways to increase the “word count” of your classroom.
- Magnets and blocks
Kids love to manipulate things, and a magnetic word board lets them physically move words to see how they come together to create sentences. Many sets of magnetic words also include prefixes and suffixes such as -s and -ly, which can demonstrate word formation processes to students. For younger grades, a simple set of magnetic letters lets students tangibly handle and organize the alphabet; alphabet blocks and foam alphabet mats also work well. With manipulatives, students who struggle with the motions of writing have another way to experience the satisfaction of creating a sentence or word, keeping them engaged in what might otherwise be a frustrating process.
Virtually every teacher knows the value of labeling the classroom environment and displaying children’s names. Children’s cubbies or lockers are frequently labeled, but take that process one step further and establish a “mail station” with a mailbox labeled with each child’s name. Encourage children to use the mailboxes to send notes and pictures to peers (establish rules about appropriate times to use the mailboxes and the importance of writing “nice notes only”). Let students label their own mailboxes; even if all a student can write is one letter of his or her name, the process of connecting that letter with the sensation that “this is my box” will create more of a learning spark than a beautiful teacher-printed label.
- Word walls
You probably already display a list of words in your classroom, but make sure it’s serving its purpose of introducing kids to the concept of words and providing a reference for spelling. Keep the wall close to eye level; according to Justine Bruyère of Vanderbilt University, students forget about a wall that’s too high above their heads. Bruyère also recommends letting students contribute to the wall rather than having the teacher be its sole curator. Peer-to-peer conversations about whether a word should be added to the wall, as well as sharing of personal tips for tricky spellings, offer valuable peer learning experiences.
- Dramatic play
When students play pretend, the scenarios they create frequently involve opportunities for written materials. If your classroom has a set of plastic food that students use to play house, restaurant, or grocery store, provide pencil and paper and encourage them to write a shopping list or menu. Students who dress up as zookeepers can create labels for their cages; young doctors can write diagnoses or prescriptions for their patients. The accuracy of the writing is unimportant: even if they can write only a few letters, draw a picture, or create simple scribbles or kidwriting, the action will help strengthen the connection between the written item and its function.
In the Kendall Hunt Religious Publishing Division’s Kindergarten Stepping Stones (KSS) program, promoting a print-rich environment is one of the most important aspects of our kindergarten language arts curriculum. This fall, consider one of our customized curriculum options, including the KSS program, to develop your students’ literacy skills beyond books!
Where can you add print-rich materials to your classroom?